Monday, 30 December 2013

2013, REFLECTIONS ON HOW FAR WE HAVE COME

Each of us will define benchmarks of progress, in 2013, differently. They may be as varied as a bigger paycheck, a larger house or the kids’ advancement in school.  However they are calculated, in addition to matters personal, they ought to also reflect whether Newfoundland and Labrador, as a society, is better off.  We are, after all, “part of the main” to use Patrick O’Flaherty’s titled phrase. 

Many in this Province have done well even if national statistics suggest we have more work to do.  High personal debt levels, poor retirement readiness, health care issues and job security challenge us, as they do other Canadians. 

Newfoundland and Labrador is engaged in a seemingly endless process of transition.  The emptying of hundreds of rural communities is a continuing flag giving confirmation that the last threads of an enduring rural culture can no longer resist the attraction of larger towns. 

Perhaps it is our lot, as a society, that we are forever in the grip of fundamentally painful change.
Yet, the Province has prospered even if many have not landed on the sweet side of the economic divide. 

Monday, 23 December 2013

'MAD HATTER' COMPETITION OVERSUBSCRIBED

The rrrrrr…ing of the telephone became insistent.  A peaceful short snooze, after dinner, suddenly seemed too high an expectation. 

Leaving my warm couch I wondered why a bloody email couldn’t have done the trick.  Hello! I answered with as much equanimity as I could muster.  “Hello, Nav! It’s Uncle Gnarley. I didn’t disturb your little cat-nap, did I? Now that you’ve surpassed 100,000 hits on “my” web site, must even I give you fair warning before you pick up the phone”, he teased. 

Gnarley chuckled but gave me no opportunity for retort.  “I am coming over to spend Christmas with you, Nav.  Those single malts beckon.  I presume you have adequately re-stocked, he bantered mischievously.  Anyway, make sure you let me in” and abruptly disconnected.      

No sooner had the receiver landed in its cradle than the doorbell initiated its own intrusive summons.  I opened it quickly and the big framed, slightly balding, old professor pushed his way inside.  “Merry Christmas, Nav”, said Uncle Gnarley, shaking my hand vigorously.  “Aren’t these cell phones wonderful? Everything is so fast these days!” 

Monday, 16 December 2013

BUDGET UPDATE: LEADING FROM THE REAR

Ask yourself this question: if the investment firm that manages your RRSP placed 33-50% of your money in the volatile commodities market, i.e. oil, would you not, at least, question its competence?  Likely, you would move your funds elsewhere. 

The Provincial Budget is annually predicated upon consistently high returns from the same volatile commodity.  NL has been bestowed a valuable natural resource; but we do have the responsibility to carefully manage its inconsistent value.  The international oil market is constantly under pressure and hence subject to significant price changes.    
For those reasons, just as we would expect a portfolio manager to insulate our most important investments from excessive risk, the Finance Minister ought to be guided by a set of policies that protects the public purse against the worse effects of volatility.         
The 2013-14 Provincial Budget Update delivered by the Minister, on December 2nd 2013, was a reminder that this Finance Minister is comfortable leading from the rear.  He has made it clear he plans no reform to the Public Service Pension Plan though the annual unfunded liability continues to mount. 

He will run deficits in a time of plenty.  He will do anything but make necessary financial decisions.  Now, he has acknowledged that changes to the current budget deficit, found in the Update, are purely accidental.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

DOES THE FEDERAL LOAN GUARANTEE HELP YOU SLEEP BETTER?

There are some, including this Blogger, who had hoped the Federal Loan Guarantee (FLG) would not get final approval.  The UARB’S approval of the Maritime Link scotched that possibility. 

It does seem bizarre that critics of the Muskrat Falls Project, in this Province, would look to outside intervention to defeat an unwise, even foolhardy use of public money.  But, when independent assessment is shut down and essential information denied, the options are scarce. 

Now that the Government has prevailed, it is unlikely that thousands of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will pack our version of “Independence Square” (as the citizens of Ukraine are now doing) to push-back bad policy and to demand the Government’s resignation.

Monday, 9 December 2013

IS RICHARD CASHIN CORRECT ABOUT DUNDERDALE'S ‘WONDERLAND’?

“Alice in Wonderland” has achieved a power in local politics one would not normally ascribe to the renderings of Lewis Carroll. 

Recounting the behaviour of Kathy Dunderdale, Richard Cashin has frequently invoked Carroll’s unforgettable Novel to explain the Premier’s illogical behaviour and strange utterances. 

Other pundits have spoken the name “Alice”, as metaphor, too. 

It suddenly seems appropriate to consider the powerful imagery to which all of them, especially Cashin, has drawn attention.  To be clear, we ought to assume it is not our beloved Alice, but the Wonderland she came to inhabit, that gives the parody context.

It is hard to blame Mr. Cashin, or anyone else, for attempting to make sense of a place gone mad.  The Premier’s behaviour seldom fits the reality; public policies have been turned upside down, she lets her Ministers say one thing when the opposite is true; ‘what’s one seat?’ she informs the voters of Harbour Grace-Carbonear as they head to the Polls.   At times, you would think it was she, and not the Mad Hatter, who intoned: “You would have to be half mad to dream me up.”

Thursday, 5 December 2013

CRA POLL REFLECTS BY-ELECTION MESSAGE TO THE PREMIER

When Kathy Dunderdale told Reporters on the afternoon of the Harbour Grace - Carbonear By-election, ‘whatever happens it’s just one Seat’, you are forced to wonder just how disconnected she is from ordinary people and detached from notions of leadership.   

The CRA Poll, released on Wednesday, places the Premier’s personal popularity at only 25% (22% three months ago) against 39% for Dwight Ball and 18% for a chastened Lorraine Michael.

Why would anyone expect the Premier’s popularity to be higher? ‘Whatever happens it’s just one seat’ is declaration of ‘don’t care’ when it ought to be one of concern and distress.

If you took notice of her comments on the six o'clock news – just two hours before the Polls – why would you think the Premier could ever lift the Tories’ from the doldrums?

Though support for the P.C.’s increased to 29% (from 26%), it equates only with the Poll’s margin of error (2.9%), so even this uptick is tentative. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

DUNDERDALE ADMINISTRATION: UNFIT TO GOVERN

It didn't take long for the Nova Scotia UARB to approve the Energy Access Agreement (EAA) in its Supplemental Decision on the Maritime Link (ML). Its blessing is needed by the Dunderdale Government to trigger the Federal Loan Guarantee (FLG) for Muskrat Falls.

The UARB took just one week to digest the evidence presented at both the Technical Conference and Hearings and write a Report. They ought to feel a little foolish for the rush knowing it was unnecessary to create more CO₂ than a Sydney coal by burning all that mid-night oil; the Dunderdale Government is concerned with saving face. It would have agreed to anything.

The crux of the matter is that UARB declared, in its July Decision, (para 216, page 70) the Maritime Link is $706 million to $1.422 billion more expensive than the alternative lowest cost option.  It stated that its approval depended upon Emera’s success at closing this large financial gap.  It said the gulf could be bridged if Nalcor guaranteed to Nova Scotia sufficient surplus or “Market-priced” energy from Muskrat Falls. 

It had no concern about price as long as the power was valued against the super competitive New England market. A bigger fear was that Labrador mines or domestic growth might absorb the available surplus.

Monday, 25 November 2013

WHY DERRICK DALLEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN NAMED

The Government should always be alert in the House of Assembly.  They ought to be careful not to ‘mislead’ for fear one of their number will endure the penalty arrant misbehaviour exacts in the tradition of British parliaments.

Then too, Opposition Members must be vigilant, ready to ‘spot’ an errant Minister or Premier engaging in an economy of the truth. 

Getting caught uttering a falsehood can lead a Member to be ‘named’.  Naming is a procedure whereby the Speaker proposes a vote on the suspension of a Member if he believes that person has broken the rules of conduct of the House.

Embarrassing the Government is one of the jobs of Opposition Parties. In so doing, they simultaneously magnify the Government’s incompetence and the Opposition’s attentiveness and skill.      

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Thursday, 21 November 2013

MARITIME LINK: THE UARB HEARS AN INCONSISTENT TRUTH

The Nova Scotia UARB has just completed hearings to review the Nalcor/Emera deal on the Maritime Link.  That Agency is determining whether NL has committed enough “surplus” or “market-priced” power to Nova Scotia on terms that will allow it to approve the Link as the lowest cost option. The UARB outlined its conditions in a July 22, 2013 Decision.

The Government and Nalcor need the UARB's approval; it is essential to obtaining the Federal Loan Guarantee. Some of the information given the UARB is different than the version told in NL. 
 
Nalcor and the Government are having a tough time keeping their story straight.

Monday, 18 November 2013

DWIGHT BALL CLEARS PATH TO PREMIER'S OFFICE

Now that the name Dwight Ball is no longer prefaced with the tentative title, “interim”, he has all the political and moral authority needed to clear a path to the Premier’s Office. 

It is reasonable to state that the Liberal Party has given the people of the Province a real political alternative; one badly needed in the land of Premier Kathy Dunderdale. 

The new Liberal Leader deserves the congratulations of the whole Province. 

Thursday, 14 November 2013

DON’T GET NALCOR TO SELL YOUR HOUSE

If you are selling your house, and you want to be left with your shirt in the bargain, don’t ask the senior people at Nalcor to negotiate on your behalf.  Here's why.
In a ‘normal’ negotiation, if you give something, you expect to receive something in return. The Energy Access Agreement (EAA) between Nalcor and Emera, on the matter of ‘surplus power’, have the rewards going one way.  They aren’t small either.

The original agreement on the Maritime Link, negotiated many months ago, was rejected by the UARB. Why?  Simply put, the Agency said it failed to meet the test of “lowest cost option” for Nova Scotia.  The UARB stated the Agreement was deficient by roughly $1 billion and that deficiency could be satisfied only with a further commitment of virtually all NL’s ‘surplus’ power.

From the perspective of Nalcor, or even of Emera, the original Agreement must have been thought fair; otherwise, no agreement would have been concluded. No suggestion was ever uttered, by anyone including by Emera, that it was coerced. 

Sunday, 10 November 2013

MY ABC CAMPAIGN: WHY I CAN’T SUPPORT CATHY BENNETT

The Liberal Party is in the midst of choosing a Candidate who will lead it into the next election.  It is an important choice; the Province badly needs an alternative to the Dunderdale Tories.

The Contest has been a very civilized affair, almost too civil, given how fractious such events can become.  I have been amused from the start that Tory Cathy Bennett was allowed to join the race.  Usually a leadership contender establishes political pedigree well before being allowed to compete for the top spot.  The Liberal Party has decided there is wisdom in the crowd and who can argue.

When I discussed the idea of an ABC Campaign (Anyone But Cathy) with Uncle Gnarley he thought the idea sound.  “Don’t go getting all caught up in big words or sarcasm”, he suggested.  “You are not very good at that stuff.  Just state the facts”, he counselled. “The public aren’t stunned you know.”    I looked at him with a grin and agreed to state my case, straight up. So, here goes.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

TROUBLED WATERS: NALCOR SPILLS $MILLIONS

When you consider the Muskrat Falls Project will produce 824 megawatts of electricity, 176 MW (almost 22%) is not a trifling sum.  It is a huge block of power. Measured against current cost estimates for Muskrat it represents a $1.3 billion asset.

176 megawatts of “stranded non-thermal power capacity” is a lot of power.  It is now being wasted, “spilled” is the acronym, in Central Newfoundland while we continue to pay for the fuel burned at the Holyrood Generating Plant. 

Where is the power and why would Nalcor waste 176 MW capacity even for a single day?

Monday, 4 November 2013

GENDER POLITICS AND KNEEJERK REACTIONS

Those concerned over how many City Council seats are won, by women, ought to sound alarms well before the ballots are counted.  By then, how many (or how few) women ran and what percentage are elected, is merely a point of history.

Following completion of returns, Sheilagh O'Leary the Mayoral contestant in St. John’s, was quoted, saying, the failure of St. John’s to elect a single woman was “disgraceful”.  NDP MHA Gerry Rogers called it “shameful”. 

Just possibly these responses, to the exclusively male Council, were ill-considered. Words like “unfortunate”, “disconcerting”, “upsetting” or even “disturbing” might have been more measured and more appropriate, too.  But, I would not over emphasize anything said within minutes of a mentally and physically draining, foot slogging, and unsuccessful election result.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

REPORT ON SEX TRADE: DEFAULT TO SECRECY

Professionals, policy analysts, social agencies and sex workers, especially those of immature age, caught in a web of financial dependency and exploitation must still be wondering why Minister Charlene Johnson and RNC Deputy Chief Bill Janes undertook to suppress a study on the sex trade and admonish CBC reporter, Adam Walsh, for releasing excerpts. 

At issue is a 2011 Report on sexual exploitation titled: "It's Nobody's Mandate and Everyone's Responsibility: Sexual Exploitation and the Sex Trade in Newfoundland and Labrador”.  Johnson and Janes wanted it neither released nor discussed, stating it was too harmful.

They were not prepared to disclose even as much information as contained in a CD freely distributed throughout the school system.  Their reasons may have been poor articulation or a more paternalistic notion, one implied but not announced” “we know what’s good for you”.  Either way, their stonewalling was baffling.

Monday, 28 October 2013

SHOULD LORRAINE MICHAEL STEP DOWN?

Who but the most ardent partisan would not be ‘gob smacked’ by the recent implosion of the NDP? 
 
As charges, criticisms, apologies, denials and mistrust entangled after each newscast it was tempting to conduct a recount of the NDP Caucus.  Was it possible that the rancor was coming from just five people?

If one word had to describe public reaction to the dirty laundry, so publicly aired, it might simply be “disappointment”. 

I think it is the right word; it neither exaggerates nor diminishes the importance of what has occurred. It speaks to a loss of trust.  It conveys recognition that high hopes were, in fact, too high.

It is not just that the NDP claims a higher moral standard than the traditional parties or that its supporters unwittingly assert the potential to perform fiscally implausible feats. There are other considerations, too.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

THE NEW DEAL WITH EMERA. WHAT WILL NALCOR THINK OF NEXT?

The latest "deal" called the "Maritime Link Compliance Filing" , between Nalcor and Emera, to satisfy The Nova Scotia Utility and Rates Board (UARB) did not get much coverage in the media.  Understandably, it is tough to compete with topics like the disintegration of the NDP.

Nor could we expect the Dunderdale Government or Nalcor might offer the public a “Coles Notes” version and their implications for this Province.  That would look too much like openness and transparency.  We could not possibly expect that, could we.

Next we need Cathy Bennett elected leader of the Liberal Party and our Bibles replaced with copies of Lewis’ Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. To paraphrase the Author: ‘You would have to be half mad to dream this stuff up’.

Monday, 21 October 2013

THE LIBERAL LEADERSHIP, THE NDP AND THE EFFECTS OF BOREDOM

If ever there was a time when the public should be regaled by the ‘bright lights’ of the two opposition parties, this is it.  If fresh new public policy ideas, enthusiasm and common sense ever had an opportunity to shine amidst the darkness of incompetent government, surely this must be that time.  But where are we to find such illumination?

To dispense with the NDP first, that Party should ask if they have received the message of the Nova Scotia Election.  They have to make their own imprint on voters and not rely on vicarious credibility from the federal party.   For sure the sentimentality and gushingly favorable political winds that wafted east upon the late Jack Layton’s ascendancy to the House of Commons has failed to translate to Tom Mulcair. 

There is every indication that the orange wave now has a more reddish hue amidst the long wavy hair and big teeth of Justin, spawn of Pierre.  Truly one should be careful of investing too much capital in either nostalgia or whimsy though funnily enough these may yet bolster Liberal fortunes even in this Province.  

Thursday, 17 October 2013

OVERSIGHT, TRUST AND THE PROVINCE'S REPUTATION

“Reckless” is not normally a word ascribed to governments in Canada.  Increasingly, though, it is how people refer to the NL Government of Premier Kathy Dunderdale. 

Her rejection of pleas, from her former Finance Minister, for an “Oversight” Committee on the Muskrat Falls Project is bewildering; it is not how responsible governments act.  (See: DID JEROME KENNEDY BITE HIS TONGUE?)
Jerome Kennedy is a major figure in the oversight issue but only because he can still influence the outcome.  He may still be biting his tongue, but I believe the public would like him to do more. 

Monday, 14 October 2013

DID JEROME KENNEDY BITE HIS TONGUE?

If the departure of Jerome Kennedy, from the Cabinet, had been marked with the silence that normally follows any Minister’s return to private life, who would want to invoke his name now? 

Well, it seems Mr. Kennedy did not go silently; he seems to have ‘bitten his tongue’ as he left Confederation Building.  His name still resounds within the halls of high office.  As his vehicle left the parking lot, very senior people acknowledged, to each other, that he ought to have explained himself differently than he had.

That comment strikes at the heart of the question: why did Mr. Kennedy resign? 

Source: The Canadian Press
Whether certain disturbing issues weigh heavy on him, only he can answer.  If the information this scribe has received, is correct, which has been corroborated by three additional sources, Mr. Kennedy may wish to re-consider anything he may have omitted from his exchange with the media, justifying his departure.

What is the issue?

It seems that Mr. Kennedy’s resignation was occasioned, less by a desire to return to his law practice, than to deeply felt concerns over certain financial aspects of the Muskrat Falls Project, specifically involving Nalcor.  Just two years ago he sought election for a full term.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

THE DUNDERDALE GOVERNMENT: WHIMSY AND RE-SET

I was expecting a call from Uncle Gnarley.  The old man had not gotten me to Post anything, for him, in quite a while.

I was happy to finish "Peering Into A Political Pressure-Cooker”.   It was a depressingly tough slog for someone with an optimistic bent.  Politics is not conducted in isolation, it may be an activity often removed from the public, but it is always about public money.  So, not only politicians are affected when the fever of bad leadership threatens contagion, it is a problem for us all.

The Blog piece out of the way, I thought I might sketch some suggestions as to how Dunderdale might put the Government on “re-set”. She has lost much public confidence.  She says the problem is her tough decisions.

Still, it is hard to mistake public policies, like Bill 29 and terrible Budget practices, for tough love. 

I have to admit, the notion of a new script for a Premier, one down on her luck, caused me to think the exercise whimsical. Then, I thought, a little whimsy is hardly worse than sheer presumption.  I would be the last person in the world whom she would ask to “re-set” her Administration.

Monday, 7 October 2013

PEERING INTO A POLITICAL PRESSURE COOKER

Those who think about the machinations of politics, even momentarily, must wonder what changes occur in an Administration so challenged and unpopular, its very survival is threatened.   

The Premier’s popularity, at 20%, is the lowest of the Country’s ten First Ministers; newspaper editors and Blogs (including this one) have called for her resignation.  Now the Minister of Finance has quit amidst reports of squabbling and disagreement.  

Is the behaviour of the Premier, of her Ministers, their staff and even of senior public servants affected when the Government is virtually under siege?

The answer is, yes.  The behaviour of most everyone, at the senior level, changes. 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

JEROME KENNEDY EARNS A SCOLDING

Jerome Kennedy tendered his resignation, from the House of Assembly and from Cabinet, yesterday.  We should thank him for his services and wish him well. 

But, in his case, we ought to first wag a bony finger in his general direction, and give him a good scolding.

That is unfortunate after six years of public service and four senior Cabinet positions.  Still, Mr. Kennedy has little to show for his hiatus from the practice of law.

That his departure ranked second, Wednesday, on the CBC 6 O’clock News to a bed bug infestation, was a most unkind cut; one Dunderdale’s new PR man could never have thought devising.

Perhaps, the CBC, too, barely thought the announcement news. Mr. Kennedy’s preference to leave politics was the talk of garden parties in his District, this past summer.  His early return, from the Premier’s China junket, spoke to a none-too-private disagreement with her.  An earlier dust-up in Caucus, following his irreverent comments on the sanctity (or otherwise) of the Tory Blue Book, did little to endear him to his colleagues. 

Monday, 30 September 2013

PADDY DALY SPUTTERS CATHY BENNETT’S CAMPAIGN

Actually that title is a slight exaggeration, but one no worse than the pumped up propaganda Cathy Bennett attempted as she got hoist on her petard, by VOCM Backtalk Host Paddy Daly.  She must have been trying to be Kathy Dunderdale, again. 

 The two are ‘cheek to jowl’, on Muskrat; the only difference is that Bennett believes she can explain the Project better. 

My Blog Post, How The Premier Damages Her Own Credibility (Part II) deals with Dunderdale’s wish to supply New England electric power for a fraction of its development cost. 

When no less a personage, than the Premier, advocates that we develop Labrador’s Gull Island, which is larger than Muskrat and reportedly cheaper per KWh, but still well in excess of 20 cents per KWh, and that we should sell it to the Governors for net 3.5 to 4 cents per KWh, you just know we have a problem.  When Bennett uses her soapbox to sell the same message, you know ‘Alice’ must have left the two behind, in Wonderland.

Friday, 27 September 2013

HOW THE PREMIER DAMAGES HER CREDIBILITY (Part II)

Premier Kathy Dunderdale
Verbatim Transcript from media ‘scrum’
Corner Brook, September 12, 2013 

“….I was at a Conference in Quebec this weekend for two days with the six New England Governors who talked about energy development…..particularly in Newfoundland and Labrador…they’re saying develop, develop, develop, Governor Shulman is saying if you got the juice we got the use so here are the people who are buying Canadian electricity saying to Canadian Premiers develop, develop, develop because we got the markets….we have just had six Governors purchase power for their states…they are talking specifically about Muskrat Falls, specifically about Gull and how that power needed to be developed and they had a use for the power in New England….the Governors are saying there’s a market, we’ve been saying there’s a market for a long time…”
Comment:
There may be a market, in New England, for electricity.   But, is development of the power commercially viable?  Is this Province prepared to expose itself to the construction risk and willing to heavily subsidize the cost of the power, as we are doing with Muskrat?  That, I believe, is exactly what the Premier is counselling.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

HOW THE PREMIER DAMAGES HER CREDIBILITY (Part I)

Public policy will always be contentious even when diverse opinions are based upon agreed facts.

One of the great characteristics of an open and free society is that individuals are at liberty to add to our collective economic and social well-being with an intellectual contribution that is personal; people perceive needs, arrange priorities or interpret factual evidence, each in their own way.

Perspectives may be influenced by self-interest, culture, maturity or screened through some other lens. Though contrarian views cause strain on the social and political fabric, they and our right to possess them, are what sets democracies apart in a world where political control is pervasive.

That said, if there exists one key to reducing conflict or to finding consensus among diverse groups and individuals, it is the prospect that all of us might form and share our opinions, as often as possible, based upon on a complete set of facts.  It is an impossible goal, but a noble one, which makes it worth striving for.  Integral to its achievement is the possibility that those in authority, who have greatest access to the information and possess the ability to pay the specialists to generate it, do not subvert the process.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

NO GOOSE FOR GOOSE BAY

The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in return for five years of disruption, ought to be given a legacy greater than the estimated 100 maintenance jobs attributable to the operation of a commissioned Muskrat Falls. 

If any synergies can be found, from even an unwise megaproject, most people would expect them to enhance Goose Bay’s future growth and development prospects.

As I write, Nalcor is spending several million dollars building a staging area, together with storage and assembly facilities on the Muskrat Falls site.  It will include a fenced compound, one or more very large warehouses whose structures and foundations will be designed for heavy loads; the height of the buildings and access to them will meet demanding requirements. 

Likely the facility will boast a heavy lift crane (and several of smaller tonnage), a large capacity electrical system, industrial grade mechanical ventilation and heating systems, adequate offices and a communications system – facilities that would rival some found at the Bull Arm Site.  Water and sewer services and related civil infrastructure will also be supplied.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

WHY ONLY A 50/50 CHANCE FOR EMERA SANCTION?

Last time, I referred to BMO Capital Markets’ Report that the Maritime Link might have only a 50/50 chance of sanction.  You may well ask why only 50/50?  Given all the sweeteners Emera has been offered to become Nalcor’s partner, why are the odds so poor? Let’s take a look at Nalcor's deal with Emera:

a)      Emera’s investment, in the transmission line from Labrador, receives a “guaranteed” rate of return from Nalcor. 

b)     Emera receives 20% of the power from Muskrat at zero cost (but for the cost of the Maritime Link)

c)      Cost overruns on the Labrador/Island transmission line are paid for by Nalcor

d)      80% of Emera’s cost overruns on the Maritime Link are paid for by Nalcor

e)      Emera receives the benefits of the Federal Loan Guarantee; and

f)       Emera gets to broker any “surplus” power for which it will receive fees

Not a bad deal, by any measure, wouldn’t you think.    

But Emera is still holding out on sanctioning the Maritime Link. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

PREMIER SANCTIONING UNTRUTHS

What is the public to make of the Premier’s ‘scrum’ in Corner Brook, on the Maritime Link? When the Premier states that Emera sanctioned the Link months ago, how is a typical person to recognize danger signals when a political leader engages in an economy of the truth?

One would have to ask: Who can you believe? What is the truth?

The Premier is supported, in her position, by a Nalcor V-P, who is a signatory to the Sanction Agreement with Emera. “The project has already received sanction…” said Gil Bennett, but confirmed, in the same breath, that Emera  "was asked to come up with more energy...we continue to have dialogue with Emera on that point….but the obligation is Emera’s…..”  Gil did his best to avoid the trap, but came pretty close to putting the words “conditional sanction” in the same sentence. 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

PREMIER, A PROVINCE-WIDE ADDRESS IS ESSENTIAL

The Blog Post "WHY DUNDERDALE CAN'T CONNECT" attempts to explain the underlying reasons the Premier is floundering in the Polls.  The Premier, and her Administration are languishing, in third place, having literally dropped off the political precipice.

That July 1st Uncle Gnarley missive concluded that “….the Premier must give herself a defined period, say six months, during which to make the positive connection with the electorate….failing this test, the Premier should call it a day”.  

The Premier is into the third month of this interval, and has been 'gone to ground' for much of the summer.  Her popularity is showing no signs of rebound.    
On Saturday the Telegram ran a front page commentary by its chief editorial writer, Russell Wangersky, announcing: "Premier, it is time to go".

The Telegram’s man delivered the message with the respect and dignity that ought to be afforded a First Minister, but there was no equivocation. Said Wangersky, to the Premier, “Your race is run.  You may not know it yet – you may not even want to believe it – but it’s over”.

Again, on Tuesday, Sept. 10 Wangersky wrote a column headlined "Lights on, nobody's home".  

Today's item is also about the Premier's 'loose ends'. It explains how the outstanding issues could severely harm this Province. They speak to the urgency of why the Premier must provide us clarity, right away.

Monday, 9 September 2013

DOES MEMORIAL NEED A LAW SCHOOL?

The President of Memorial University, Dr. Gary Kachanoski, thinks it is time to "again examine the feasibility of establishing a law school at Memorial.  It’s been 25 years since the university last reviewed this avenue”, he stated in February.

University Presidents tend to like legacy projects. Mose Morgan built the Music School; others, including engineering, medical, nursing and business are all important legacy projects of Memorial Presidents.

But, do we need a law school?  The arguments are murkier than those advanced for the other professional schools.

This Province’s population has actually declined, and the number of practising lawyers has increased, since the idea of a law school was first studied. This might suggest that the number of lawyers, per capita, is a meaningful measurement of how well a society is served, by that group.  But, is it?

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

SHAWN SKINNER AND HIS DOPPELGANGER

“’I have a stake in the game,’ acknowledges Shawn Skinner”.  The Telegram quoted the former Natural Resources Minister, frequent CBC Political Commentator, Tory Government defender and Muskrat Falls advocate, in a front page story, on Wednesday, after Skinner “took to the airwaves on VOCM”. 

Skinner was expressing concerns that possibly the largest single contract, on the Mega Project, might be awarded to an Italian company. Skinner acknowledged that his current employer, a Canadian Company called AECON Construction Group, also bid on the Contract. ”Your level of risk with something going wrong there, I would argue, is much less than when you bring in a company from Europe”, he was quoted as saying.

I had no idea!

‘Shawn’, I thought to myself, as I read the morning rag and sipped on a Starbucks, ‘you got to tell us this stuff!  I have been listening to you, for months, yammer on about what a great Project is Muskrat Falls.  Only now, you tell me the ‘risk’ is going to get ratcheted up, if things don’t go your way, er…if the contract goes offshore.

Monday, 2 September 2013

THE MINISTER OF FINANCE IN HIS OWN WORDS

Telegram Reporter James McLeod conducted an interview with the Finance Minister, in July, which he titled "Jerome Kennedy in his own words".  The transcript is posted on the Telegram’s Web Site, on his “Briefing Notes” Blog.  Mr. McLeod is a keen reporter and this one, like others of his lengthy verbatim transcripts, is a valuable record of the ‘thinking’ of his subject. 

Unfortunately, the only part of the interview which became ‘news’ was the Minister’s views about the Tory Blue Book.  Kennedy eschewed any notion that they constituted promises. “You used the word promise”, Kennedy said to McLeod. “I’m not sure that the Blue Book can be described as a promise. It outlines a platform of initiatives…we strive as best we can to ensure that the commitments made or the components of the platform are complied with.” 

While the Minister’s phrasing failed to meet some expectations and titillated the public, for a few days, the revelation, for my money, was quite secondary to what the McLeod’s interview accomplished.  I am not referring to the Budget “ceiling” either, though it was discussion of that subject, that shed light on a more critical issue.

Friday, 30 August 2013

TOM OSBORNE: SURPRISE, RISK AND INTRIGUE

The decision by St. John’s South MHA, Tom Osborne’s to join the Liberal Party, contains elements of surprise, risk and intrigue.  We’ll get to those in a moment.

Tom Osborne feels emboldened.  He believes the high vote that his St. John’s South District awarded him, over the past seventeen years, is a personal achievement; that it is not connected with his Tory affiliation. He may be correct; but, only in part. The Party Leader, the Party, the prevailing issues, the opposing candidates, as well as timing, all play a role in any electoral outcome.

Any Opposition Party likes to steal an elected Member from the Government.  Though Osborne had already left the Tories, either Party he joined still had something to gain.  For the winner, it is a public display of strength and credibility. For maximum effect it is best to get the timing right.  Tom didn’t or couldn’t. Likely, he had received a higher calling and decided to make his move now.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

A REEL LABRADOR TALE

An osprey vacated Park Lake, the distinct angle of flight confirming its’ signature.  A pair of bald eagles returned to take possession of their domain. A party of loons, moved a safe distance but proceeded to dive for prey displaying, as they always do, their characteristic grace and determination.  

The sky was slightly overcast; the Lake flowed inexorably where it joined the Eagle River before spilling into the Atlantic, touching Cartwright, at the finish. A series of rapids whose names marked their relationship to the Lake: Muskrat, The Honey Hole and Eagle, each confirmed a legacy of challenge understood and enlarged by successive, but not always successful, salmon fishermen; latterly fisherwomen, too.    

Slowly, the fishing guide headed the nearly flat bottomed Gander River Boat cautiously in a north easterly direction, ever mindful that the slowly flowing landscape also comprised an array of boulder reefs and shoals.  They presented a continuing challenge, if not a threat to the output of the engine’s 8 HP. The guide’s name was Ron. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

THE NDP CHASING RABBITS (PLUS A TOM OSBORNE POSTSCRIPT)

The saying “don’t go chasing rabbits” evokes a warning against one going off on a tangent, getting distracted or confused.  In politics, it is a caution, to politicians, that they may have missed the big issue in pursuit of one minor or of no consequence at all.

Former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker was once quoted as saying something like: ‘when I hunt bears I don’t go looking for rabbit tracks’. 

That’s what the NDP did recently.  It needs reminding that it should be hunting bears; that its job is to stay focussed on “big picture” politics.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

FRACKING: TOM MARSHALL STEPS INTO A COW PLOP

The public should always be allowed to enjoy a level of contentment, that the public policies promoted by politicians, are based upon certain fundamental principles.  Among them: a)  that they are founded on science b) guided by a respect for social values including those relating to protection of the environment and c) reflect the interests of the people for whom the policies have been designed.

Those principles should be tautology; they should be imbedded in the fundamental laws of all policy making.
A recent copy of the Telegram (August 14th) read “Marshall surprised by fracking operations in Sask.”, together with a picture of Natural Resources Minister standing in a canola field; a pump-jack lifting oil from a hydraulic fractured well, provided backdrop. 
Seeing Tom Marshall on a farm, anywhere, how could one not think that, once again, he had stepped into a cow plop?

Monday, 19 August 2013

NALCOR: NO PLACE FOR TRAINING WHEELS

Nalcor senior management does not possess the necessary confidence to engage the public in its high risk megaproject.   That is unfortunate.

A confident organization would be proud to display its talents and demonstrate exactly why it has no need to engage private enterprise to share, at least, some of the financial risk of Muskrat Falls.  It would give confirmation to its self-assessed capability, as “world class experts”. 

At least, that is how the Premier frequently refers them. 
A truly skilled Nalcor leadership would insist that the public is awash with sound, up to date information; it would welcome the views of critics and go out of its way to allay their concerns.    

It would want its leadership role, in the Province, confirmed by a well-earned reputation. Instead senior Nalcor management, and its Board of Directors, are afraid that the public may learn too much.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

GIVE THAT MAN AN OSCAR

Nalcor’s precursor, Newfoundland Hydro , for many years, was a quiet Crown Corporation responsibly meeting the Province’s electricity needs. It never tried the movie business. Management, then, were serious folk, eschewing glamour for its own sake.

Then, along came Danny Williams. 
Reportedly, he had struck it rich in the ’regulated’ world of cable television.  The experience had left him marked with the magic of guaranteed returns.  On the public stage, he demanded a script suggesting that such profits could easily be replicated, by public servants, applying the leverage of taxpayers’ money.  That’s the problem with ‘showbiz’; it’s hard to distinguish fact from fiction.

Monday, 12 August 2013

ROSS REID SHOULD KEEP HIS HAT ON

Ross Reid, the new Chief of Staff to Premier Kathy Dunderdale, has always eschewed steady work.  Whether as Chief to John Crosbie, as MP and Federal Minister of Fisheries, in his multiple NGO roles or, more recently, as head of a population growth strategy, Ross was always the perfect “temp”.

Ross knows when to leave; he is wise enough to keep his hat on.
Reid is capable of giving the Premier much needed help; but, she needs a lot of it. 

The Premier has stumbled badly. More than one person, a savvy, experienced team is necessary to form a Plan; one that includes policy and reflects current political realities.  If the challenge is ignored, the Government may not survive the next election.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

UNCLE GNARLEY IS GONE FISHIN'

For the next couple of days I will be fishing in Labrador, on the large, beautiful and bountiful Eagle River. 

I won’t stop in at Muskrat Falls, this time.  Usually, I hike down over the North Spur and sit on a large boulder, conveniently situated on the embankment. I like to witness and feel the majesty of the Falls.  Its wonderment is indescribable. 

What strikes the visitor is not just Muskrat's size or the constancy of its thunder; the vibrations which are conveyed through rock, sand and mud, are telegraphic, seemingly sending a titanic warning of the River’s unspeakable power. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

JUST DON’T TELL THE NEWFOUNDLANDERS

The decision of Nova Scotia's Utility and Rate Review Board (UARB),  on Muskrat Falls, was a good example to, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, of how a full independent review can play a key role in giving protection to the public.

The UARB’s job was to ferret out whether there was a justification for the Maritime Link (ML) proposal, and whether the project made sense in terms of the cost per KWh, to NS ratepayers.
In every sense, the UARB’s narrative is inextricably linked to the entire Muskrat Falls Project.   Nalcor and the Provincial Government have had a hard time, from the very beginning, justifying the investment.  The independent UARB analysis has cut a trail to certain fundamental reasons (untruths) which made their job so difficult.       

Whether one agrees with the conclusions of the UARB or not, it has provided a far more independent glimpse of how essential facts have been altered to obtain Newfoundland’s approval than is likely to emerge from any other source.  

Monday, 29 July 2013

A GOVERNMENT OF FOOLS

Those who noticed the decisions, out of Nova Scotia's UARB and Hydro Quebec, should not be content with being surprised.  Afterall, by anyone’s standards, surprises on a major scale, that appear after $7.4 billion has been committed, constitute recklessness.  The public should deal with this reality; it needs to tell the Premier to stop. 

The UARB has stated, in uncommonly plain language, that the Maritime Link is not, now, the lowest cost option for Nova Scotia.  It says that 15 cents per KWh for the Nova Scotia Block is too high and demands that all of the ‘surplus’ energy from Muskrat Falls be made available.  Altogether, the two blocks constitutes 60% of the power from Muskrat Falls. It says, only by levelling the price, with cheap (5-9 cents KWh) “market-priced” power, can it achieve the desired blended rate of 10 cents, allowing the ML, over time, to become the lowest cost option. 

Exhibiting Quebec style opportunism, NS could care less that Newfoundland rate-payers will pay in excess of 20 cents per KWH.  They are not concerned that Newfoundlanders and Labradorians will assume all of the construction risk, including 80% of cost overruns on the Maritime Link (ML). But, NS sees an opportunity to benefit and who can blame them.  They are doing what ‘states’ do: they act in their self-interest. If Premier Dunderdale had consulted Brian Peckford on Nova Scotia’s antics, during the Atlantic Accord saga, she and her Ministers might not have so quickly earned the mantle, ‘babes in the wood’.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

THE END OF THE BEGINNING FOR MUSKRAT FALLS

Monday, July 22, 2013 will go down in infamy as the date on which the wheels finally began coming off the Muskrat Falls Project. 

Some would rightfully argue that the wheels, on this Project, were never properly attached anyway. Who, except Kathy Dunderdale, Ed Martin, Jerome Kennedy and Cathy Bennett would disagree.

Likely, at this very moment, the Dunderdale crowd, in Confederation Building, are enjoying the relaxation of summer; the House of Assembly is closed, Ministers are off to their country places and the oppressive heat, wrought by an angry public and pesky Pollsters, is a distant memory for a battle weary Government.  I doubt that a single one of them appreciate that the Dunderdale train just got side tracked and is now hanging over a very steep political and financial precipice.

Monday, 22 July 2013

LOOSE JUICE - NALCOR'S INCONSISTENT TRUTH

"Nav, I am nearly finished 'Why Nations Fail' and I suggest that you take it with you when you leave here this evening.  But do you fancy something a little stronger than a coffee?" 

The old man's grin clearly communicated that this was a question of a rhetorical nature.  We began the walk to Erin's, one of Uncle Gnarley's preferred watering holes. 

"What is peculiar about Nalcor, Uncle Gnarley continued, is that they put ‘on airs’ about being an open and transparent company.  They produce an annual transparency report, hold public meetings and they even have an annual general meeting for their shareholders".

"Uncle Gnarley what is peculiar about that?"

"Nalcor have created the illusion of transparency, but once you scratch the surface they spew an awful lot of baffelgab.  Combined with their subsidiary, known to most as the Premier’s office, they have worked to undermine the pre-existing democratic institutions such as the Public Tendering Act, the Public Utilities Board, and also the fiscal governance responsibilities of the House of Assembly.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

SECRECY AND THE NALCOR STATE

The following comments are not mine, though they mirror the views expressed in The Nalcor State: A Clear and Present Danger.  Comments get placed on Uncle Gnarley Blog or arrive by private email.  

The words speak to frustration with a Crown Corporation engaged in high level secrecy and obfuscation and to a bewilderment as to why an elected Government is complicit and approving of  Nalcor’s behaviour.  Equally, there is the realization that, while the Government is blind, the public is offered no protection because Muskrat Falls is exempt from review, even from an independent regulator like the PUB.

Monday, 15 July 2013

WHY PROJECTS FAIL

Sunday evening turned out to be one of those special times when the City of Legends lived up to its billing.  Inspired by the sunset, I decided to take a stroll down to my favourite coffee shop on Water Street.  After ordering a low fat latte, I saw from the corner of my eye a man who was clearly out of place with the nouveau architecture. 
 

Uncle Gnarley was perhaps better suited to unemployment boots, while traversing the island in search for a great fishing pool.  This evening he wore Birkenstocks and a tie-dyed shirt while drinking an Italian coffee.   After all these years, I have learned never to be surprised by my old friend. 

Uncle Gnarley was totally engrossed in his book.  The firm grip of his teeth on his bottom lip was a tell-tale sign that he was in a state of higher concentration.    I went over and nudged him "I thought you would be up the Gander River by now?"


He was clearly not pleased, slowly rotating his head to look up.  The clasped lip was quickly replaced by the unmistakable grin.  "Nav, the water is too high on accounts of all this rain.  This fine evening, I am taking my pleasure in a cup of coffee and a book.  It is called Why Nations Fail,
written by a couple of economists from Harvard.  It is simply written, but it does outline a very thought provoking theory.  You might enjoy the simple concepts, Nav”.

With that I knew that this was not to be a quick encounter.  I took the chair which was graciously offered. 

Thursday, 11 July 2013

THE LIBERALS ARE OFF!!!

Yes, they’re off!  Finally. The second ‘natural’ governing Party in the Province wants your attention. The ads will start soon. Don Cherry has already tweaked a well-worn script for Kathy Bennett.  It goes something like:

She may not know Liberals

But, she knows the Tories

And here’s the kicker:

My friends at the Board of Trade know her, so check her oout!

 
(This paid political message brought to you by Nalcor. “We’ll keep you in the dark”.)


Ahem.

Now, will Dwight Ball please tell us what he stands for? I hope so.  It’s hard watching a martyr not knowing if he has religion; though he does look like a fellow with a lot to confess.

Monday, 8 July 2013

THE NALCOR STATE: A CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER

Likely, most people believe that the Muskrat Falls Project is out of reach of cancellation.  That may be true; still, the public expects their Government to keep a tight rein on Project costs and to report frequently. 

So far, the Dunderdale Administration has shown no sign that it is either concerned, or that it even cares, whether the public is kept informed.

The Government has sanctioned Muskrat Falls based upon a series of dodgy and ever changing arguments.  But, having passed over complete discretion on how billions of dollars of public money will be spent, to a cabal of unelected bureaucrats at Nalcor, represents an unparalleled dereliction of duty, by elected officials.

The performance of Nalcor CEO Ed Martin, during its recent Annual General Meeting (AGM), is significant.  Russell Wangersky raised the issue in the June 30th edition of the Telegram.  He cited several specific examples of the Corporation’s refusal to disclose essential information regarding major Project contracts and expenditures. In a nutshell, Nalcor is making copious use of the “can’t tell you” strategy: it responds to many enquiries, with either “no answer” or “too commercially sensitive to answer.” As a backgrounder to this piece, Mr. Wangersky’s Column, "Variations on a theme - questions and non-answers", is well worth reading. 

Thursday, 4 July 2013

WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM A BARBER

When I go for a haircut, my Barber understands my little idiosyncrasy.  Not a word is exchanged, once I sit in her chair.  She knows exactly how much to cut, anyway. 

There is a reason for this bit of unfriendliness.  It’s not that I want to be anti-social; I just tend to be inquisitive and want to hear what the other customers are saying.  You can really pick up some interesting tidbits in a Barber Shop. 

Now, this Saturday, I went to get my ‘ears lowered’, as a friend describes  a hair cut.  I nodded the usual greeting, to my Barber, and sat in the chair.  The occasion was rather timely because, only a moment earlier, the next chair had received a patron; he and his Barber were already in conversation.

Monday, 1 July 2013

WHY DUNDERDALE CAN'T CONNECT

Attempts at defining ‘leadership’ might suggest one can write a prescription for why one Premier can command popular support and another fails. Declining popularity, for Premier Kathy Dunderdale and her Administration, certainly puts the question under a critical spot light.

Leadership is a tricky matter; for political leaders in trouble, it says more about their ability to ‘connect’ with the body politic, than the public’s excess of expectations.  Such a connection determines not just how much latitude they exercise, but how far the public’s patience can be stretched.  Those who successfully bond are skilful and confident.  They can expect that, if the relationship diminishes, it might be rekindled, later.

Leadership is truly as complex as the person at the helm. Those who possess leadership’s essential qualities seldom need the affirmation of opinion polls.

Why isn’t this Premier connected with her ‘body politic’?